Genre: Slash, UST
Summary: All in all, it wasn’t the worst that could have happened.
A/N: written for z_rayne’s prompt: John/Rodney, ceremonial steam hut - Thank you again for those files, Zoe. I do hope this repays some of the debts.
Beta-read: by the fabulous auburnnothenna and monanotlisa. Thank you for your patience and your hand-holding.
(First foray into slash, so, be gentle, please)
His head swims in the heat, feels too light somehow. He eyes McKay with a gaze that takes too long to focus and wonders dimly if it feels the same to the other man.
McKay has stopped complaining about the heat and the sweat and the steam a while ago.
He sits still on the wooden bench, legs bent, elbows resting on his knees, head hanging. His hair is damp with moisture - sweat and condensated water, Sheppard knows, because the same mixture is tickling his scalp. McKay’s breathing is shallow; he’s probably trying not to inhale too much of the searing hot air, and Sheppard can relate to that, too. The steam makes it better and worse at the same time, soothing and burning.
In the beginning, when they had been put in here for cleansing before they could return through the sacred portal, it had only been the water that had ran from their bare arms and legs, causing McKay to scrub at it viciously and complain enough to test even Sheppard’s patience.
They were contaminated with ghosts. Ghosts that would, according to the natives, possess the sacred portal -- meaning, of course, the stargate -- if they passed through it without being cleansed. The original feeling of dread at the word possession hasn’t quite left Sheppard yet, even though he now knows that the ghosts were the last gasp security measures of a bombed out Ancient installation with just enough power to create a small shield and give an electric jolt to anyone without the ATA gene. No wonder the natives were frightened. Said natives had insisted on them not going to the ruins, so when they had found out that - all hail McKay’s curiosity - the Atlantis team had done so after all, they had refused to let them go. Had stubbornly claimed that all of them - Ronon, Teyla, McKay and himself - were now contaminated with the curse of the ancestors, and that they’d have to cleanse themselves before they could return through the sacred portal again.
All in all, it wasn’t the worst that could have happened.
If breaking taboos gets them a free spa day, he should advise Elizabeth to do it, too.
That's a thought he had two hours ago, though.
By now, Sheppard’s sweating profusely and he feels the heat weakening him, stripping his defenses and slowing his reflexes. He’s no longer sure if it’s just the heat or if there is something more than water in that steam. He can’t smell anything, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing there; plenty of substances are undetectable to human senses. Drops of perspiration and water run along his arms and down his chest, the light tickle against his slick skin distracting him more and more. He knows it should disturb him that McKay isn’t talking so he makes a last-ditch attempt to clear his head. “McKay?”
McKay moves as though waking from a trance. He raises his head, lazy and slow like it's too heavy, but not enough to actually move it in Sheppard’s direction. Only his eyes hint at attentiveness. The off-white towel-like cloth that’s slung low around his hips whispers quietly when his arms brush against it.
McKay’s eyes settle on him, shadowed by eyelashes lowered from either fatigue or inertia. There is a line of droplets caught in his brow. “Hmm?” The sound doesn’t morph into a word, can’t, because McKay’s mouth is obscured behind his upper arm, closed lips pressed against it lightly. He’s looking vulnerable and languid at the same time, causing Sheppard’s stomach to do a not entirely unpleasant, slow-motion roll.
“Still with me?” It’s an even worse drawl than usual, he notices dimly.
Instead of an answer, McKay just blinks - unhurried and absolutely uncharacteristically indolent - and gives another unarticulated, humming sound. The moisture in the room is almost dense enough to carry the reverberation of it for Sheppard to feel against his own skin.
“Yeah, me, too.”
Sheppard closes his eyes again, listening to their breathing and the occasional soft drip as a drop of sweat or water hits the smooth stone floor. The quiet is eerie. Not a sound from the outside reaches them in here.
The wooden bench creaks, and he cracks one eye open, checking out of routine as much as out of curiosity.
McKay has changed his position next to him. Head and arms hanging as though they’re too heavy to hold up, he’s stretching his back. The movement makes a few vertebraes pop with subdued cracking noises, and Sheppard would wince in sympathy if he had the energy. McKay groans and slowly rolls his head to the other side, repeating the crack-pop-groan routine.
The muscles in his back move, allowing Sheppard to map that broad back - the gentle plane of shoulderblades blending into round shoulder and the valley of that audibly so very fucked up spine. He can’t help noticing how well-rounded everything about McKay appears. Not bony and sharp like himself.
McKay exhales, long and deep, and lifts his head a bit, eyes still closed, allowing Sheppard to watch the unhurried journey of a droplet of water or sweat from the tips of McKay’s hair down the man’s back. Vertebra for vertebra, lazy and slow, clinging to skin that’s glistening with moisture; glittering pale golden when the low light catches it stopping now and then, only to continue when McKay breathes in or out.
Sheppard’s mouth goes dry and he has the sudden, insane urge to follow the journey of that drop with his hand, his fingers twitching when the drop reaches the small of McKay’s back.
McKay’s skin - as much as he has seen of it on missions - is usually pale, but in the lighting of this room, it’s almost glowing, a tint of pink from the heat and gold from the lights. Soft. It looks so damn soft and slick and warm, and Sheppard really doesn’t need this train of thought. His hand twitches again as he watches the drop of perspiration roll farther down McKay’s spine, lower and lower, toward his tailbone and under the towel. It takes all of his willpower to not reach out.
A drop of sweat rolls down his own nose and slips onto his lips, the sensation making him shiver, a welcome distraction. Sheppard touches his tongue to the moisture, tastes salt. His head feels even lighter than before, and it takes him a while to notice that McKay’s eyes are open and that the other man is watching him over his shoulder.
Watching openly. Watching his mouth.
Sheppard breathes hard, feels his body tighten under that gaze. He doesn’t move, however. If he stays still, maybe McKay won’t notice anything -- off. Maybe he’ll just move, hang his head again and close those damn inquisitive eyes, and Sheppard will be able to rebuild the walls that are melting around him like an ice-cube in the sunlight.
In the end, McKay does move. But not in the way Sheppard had expected at all.
McKay turns on the narrow bench, making it creak again. He inches forward and the suck-squelch release as his legs slide over the wood seems absurdly loud. His tongue touches his lower lip in an echo of Sheppard’s own gesture and Sheppard is transfixed for a second.
The water has plastered McKay’s hair against his skull and makes it darker than it normally is. Small beads of perspiration run along his temple and over his cheek, down along his jawline and throat and lower until they reach his chest and disappear in a scattering of dark hair, plastered against McKay’s moisture-glistening skin. Sheppard is aware that he’s staring but damn him if he can stop. He has never been fussy about gender, but he has never fully realised just how attractive another man can be. Looking at the way the moisture clings to McKay’s biceps, slides over the swell of muscle down to his forearms and soaks the towel which by now rides precariously low on the other man’s hips makes him wonder if this is what an epiphany feels like.
McKay’s lashes are spiky from the steam and can’t quite shadow the way the man’s pupils are dilated so much there barely is anything of the blue iris left to see. Sheppard feels stripped bare under McKay’s gaze, naked and horribly vulnerable.
The other man’s eyes are flickering. They alone hold the usual frenetic McKay energy and Sheppard can’t look away, can’t run, has no place to hide. If possible at all, he feels even warmer under that intense gaze, half-fears greying out from the combined heat. Beads of sweat roll down his back, chest and face, tickling skin that is highly sensitised all at once.
Sheppard can’t help thinking how this amount of perspiration would be disgusting in every other situation, but amidst the steam, it’s clean and warm and enticing.
His heart slams harder against his chest when McKay lifts his hand, eyes still trained on Sheppard’s mouth.
Seconds trickle by in which nothing happens.
The wood creaks. It’s the only thing disturbing the sound of McKay’s open-mouthed breathing and his own blood rushing in his ears. Sheppard suddenly shivers despite the heat as McKay slides closer and closer, into touching distance. He’s leaning nearer and nearer, until Sheppard can feel McKay's breath against his wet skin. Sheppard clenches his hands around the bench to stop his shaking and because part of him is screaming to bolt, to flinch away, to leave, leave, leave because this is too intimate and too close and he shouldn’t want this but oh, god, he does.
McKay’s breath against his face is cooler than the air yet making his skin burn.
His own breath speeds up. His heart is thudding. His throat his dry. His skin prickles with awareness.
McKay edges closer, close enough for Sheppard to see the fine lines around his eyes. Laugh lines, frown lines and squint lines McKay didn't have the day they stepped through the stargate to Atlantis, because before that he spent all his time in labs and not in the field, under the sun, peering at scanners and getting sunburnt and complaining.
McKay’s hand is in his line of vision.
Fingers, two of them, oddly callused, are slowly circling around Sheppard’s lips, spreading salty drops of moisture.
Sheppard meets McKay’s eyes and swallows convulsively, clawing at the last scrap of sanity that is still yelling at him to move, leave, run. The habitual urge to panic is subdued by the loud thudding of heart, however. So without thinking about the consequences, his tongue touches his lips again. Touches McKay’s index finger.
A brief tremor runs through the other man, then McKay’s index finger moves past its set course, mapping the skin of Sheppard’s lips.
Sheppard’s breath hitches and he fights to keep his eyes from closing at the languid, drowsy pleasure that floods his body as a result of this small touch. Instead, he meets McKay’s eyes and touches his tongue to the salt-tipped finger deliberately.
God, it’s too hot to move or he’d be touching McKay by now, running his hands and mouth over all that warm, moist skin, learning shape and sound and taste. He’d be tearing that towel away and would … His blood rushes ever louder in his ears, his heart thumping painfully, making him aware of the effects his fantasy is having on his body. It’s too hot. If they don’t want to faint from a heat-stroke, they’d better …
McKay’s hand trails toward his jaw.
Sheppard moves finally, slides his hands up McKay’s arms in a languid glide up to his neck and pulls McKay forward, closing the gap between them.
He breathes in sharply when McKay’s moist lips touch his and fire pools in his stomach; small licks and delicate bites first, getting acquainted to the feel of slick lips and urgent tongue and the taste of salt and McKay, who makes the most amazing small and broken sounds under his breath.
It’s not enough, never enough and he locks his hands tighter around McKay’s neck, moves them into his damp hair. Sheppard deepens the kiss and the room around him disappears in a flood of sensations - McKay’s big hands languorously running over his moist back, making him shudder, and McKay sucking on his tongue, stripping away silent long-established protests and doubts, breaking Sheppard with cruel, erotic precision.
He doesn’t want to stop. If this is what it means to break, then he wants to break over and over again, no matter if he feels the heat rising mercilessly until stars dance in front of his eyes and the world begins to swim out of focus.
It’s McKay who breaks the kiss with a whimper, breathing fast and swaying.
Dizziness hits Sheppard so hard he tilts, nearly toppling off the bench. His limbs feel heavy and his head too light. The air is too hot to breathe. His eyes refuse to focus. Blackness swims at the edge of his vision. He can barely hear McKay’s equally laboured breathing over the rush of blood in his ears.
Too hot. He knew this would come.
Finally, his arms fall away from McKay’s neck and he slips off the bench onto the warm stone floor, a dead-weight.
The last thing he notices before he loses consciousness is McKay slipping next to him, their limbs tangling.
Freezing cold jolts Sheppard back into consciousness, and God, if the heat hasn’t killed him, this will for sure. His eyes refuse to focus on anything beyond the pool of freezing water he’s currently in, and he can feel every inch of skin stinging from the shock of cold. His balls are about ready to crawl inside his body. He attempts to get out of the icy water but realises that he can’t.
Next to him, McKay makes undignified, not quite articulate noises of pain and outrage amidst the splashing and flailing -- the elderly women who had led them into the steam house are holding them down in the cold water with surprising strength.
For a moment, Sheppard thinks about killing McKay. It is his fault they have to go through this, after all. McKay gets lucky, though, because the women let go of their shoulders and reach for their hands to pull them both out of the water.
Sheppard shivers uncontrollably and feels as weak as a baby. He sways on the spot, as light-headed as he’s felt in the steam house. For just a moment, he closes his eyes and tries to recall the events. When he opens them again, McKay is watching him.
Sheppard swallows and looks away.
Neither Ronon nor Teyla had looked surprised at the whole procedure when they had met Sheppard and McKay outside the villages main building after the cleansing ceremony. On their way back to the stargate, Teyla tells a story of the shared beliefs and customs of many worlds and once more Sheppard feels like McKay and he are the only real aliens here.
His hand brushes McKay’s when they walk back through the stargate. Just for the blink of an eye, enough to notice that it still bears the heat from the steam house.
“You may have experienced visions.” He still hears the elder’s voice, whispering in his head.
Sheppard’s mind flashes to a drop of perspiration, languidly rolling down a broad back.
He pushes the memory aside and locks it away tightly.